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Jun 22, 2021 - 7:33:01 AM

RichJ

USA

501 posts since 8/6/2013

Being one of the more commonly replaced parts of a violin in addition to being relatively inexpensive and coming in a variety of styles and grades I got to wondering how much a bridge can affect the tonal quality of a violin. Naturally the final shaping and fitting also will have influence, but lets assume this would be done by an experience person. So my question relates only to style, grade, type of wood etc. of the bridge itself.

Jun 22, 2021 - 7:51 AM

1926 posts since 8/27/2008

quote:
Originally posted by RichJ

Being one of the more commonly replaced parts of a violin in addition to being relatively inexpensive and coming in a variety of styles and grades I got to wondering how much a bridge can affect the tonal quality of a violin. Naturally the final shaping and fitting also will have influence, but lets assume this would be done by an experience person. So my question relates only to style, grade, type of wood etc. of the bridge itself.


A good quality, well cut and fitted bridge will bring out the  best in your instrument. On the other hand it won't give you a different instrument. A violin's primary characteristics are in it's body.

Jun 22, 2021 - 8:57:18 AM

312 posts since 1/5/2009

A great deal is taught about the bridge. The bridge is the filter for the string vibration. The quality of the bridge material, type, shape and cut determine the quality of the tone. Having a bridge set up properly along with the instrument setup is a must. The violin will sound its best when this is done properly.


Jun 22, 2021 - 10:10:28 AM

RichJ

USA

501 posts since 8/6/2013

Brian and Carl - thanks for you quick responses. This photo shows a number of different bridges. To my eye they more or less all look the same other than fancier grades of maple which likely result in the price ranges. Would there be any real difference in sound quality between any of these assuming, as said preciously, they all were fitted by an expert.

Modern bridges look much alike. Guessing this is because they're all cut by machine. If you take a look at some of the real old bridges, 75 - 100 years or more, ones cut by hand, there's quite a range of styles. All of this lead to my asking the initial question.

Jun 22, 2021 - 11:16:59 AM
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460 posts since 3/1/2020

Bridges are crucial to the tone of an instrument, second only to the soundpost in importance to the setup. Yes, the arching determines much of the character of an instrument, but that’s something that can’t be changed, whereas setup can bring about dramatic changes.

The different brands might look similar, but they do NOT work the same way! Some brands are harder, some have a different starting shape, some have more or less wood to start with, some are treated or untreated. Higher quality blanks are selected for their grain orientation and aged to get rid of residual moisture. Cheap bridges are cut cheaply and don’t have good grain orientation. They are too soft and green and tend to fail easily.

As you move up the ladder in quality, the differences in sound can become more subtle, but they do exist.

Of course, a bridge must be cut well to perform. A bad job can negate a great blank.

Edited by - The Violin Beautiful on 06/22/2021 11:19:45

Jun 22, 2021 - 12:28:48 PM

1926 posts since 8/27/2008

One sometimes feature of bridges is the ebony inlay for the E string. I have no idea if it affects the sound. Personally I've never seen where an E string cut through the maple, although I'm sure it must happen on cheaper bridges or you wouldn't see the variety of ways there are to prevent it. Rich may well have experience here which I'd be interested in.

Jun 22, 2021 - 12:47:46 PM

866 posts since 1/25/2008

quote:
Originally posted by RichJ

Being one of the more commonly replaced parts of a violin in addition to being relatively inexpensive and coming in a variety of styles and grades I got to wondering how much a bridge can affect the tonal quality of a violin. Naturally the final shaping and fitting also will have influence, but lets assume this would be done by an experience person. So my question relates only to style, grade, type of wood etc. of the bridge itself.


The bridge can have a very large effect. The fit of the feet, the weight and thickness of the bridge, and the shape of the cut can all make large differences. The bridge is the connection between the vibrating strings, and the body, which acts as the radiator for the sound. A heavy, poorly cut bridge can damp the heck out of the sound.

Jun 22, 2021 - 1:08:23 PM
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DougD

USA

10171 posts since 12/2/2007

RichJ - One reason the bridges on that catalogue page look similar is that they're blanks (and mostly from one manufacturer). They haven't been carved or fitted yet, which is where the skill and knowledge come in.

Jun 22, 2021 - 2:37:01 PM

5611 posts since 7/1/2007

quote:
Originally posted by RichJ

Being one of the more commonly replaced parts of a violin in addition to being relatively inexpensive and coming in a variety of styles and grades I got to wondering how much a bridge can affect the tonal quality of a violin. Naturally the final shaping and fitting also will have influence, but lets assume this would be done by an experience person. So my question relates only to style, grade, type of wood etc. of the bridge itself.


I can give you an example from this morning. When I get a totally unknown violin, I set it up in stages. This morning I was finishing up a fiddle made in Markneukirchen in the 20s or 30s by a maker that I couldn't find any information on, apart from finding references to him in the German national archives. It had been heavily over-varnished at one time, and used as a student instrument. So the first thing I did when I got it was to set it up with a new sound post  (necessary) and a set of Zyex and the existing bridge. It was obnoxiously bright, but had a good G and lot of power, so I figured I could maybe do something with it. I stripped it down and spent a few hours cleaning and scraping the extra varnish off of it, repaired a few dings, polished it up, and cut a new bridge for it. This morning while I was waiting for a customer to arrive, I finished out the bridge, thinned the bridge top, opened up the kidneys, etc. With no sound post adjustments or other changes to strings or setup, that fiddle had gone from obnoxiously bright to drawing a "Wow" from my pro fiddler customer. So, do bridges make a difference? IMHO, I think so. To me, it's the cut and fit more than anything. Quality of bridge makes a difference, sure. You can get more brilliance out of a hard bridge and hard bridges hold up longer, but my clients don't particularly like brilliance so I only use top grade bridges on expensive violins, since middle grades do all that is needed for the sound most fiddlers are looking for - IF they are cut and fitted properly.

I'm still gonna let that fiddle hang for a while and settle in, and tweak the post fit and location to see what else I can get out of it, but I'd say this case is a good example of a bridge making a great big difference in sound.  I've done experiments in the past swapping different bridges with different cuts, but where I have learned the most is just from observing the results over several decades of trying stuff and observing the results.

BTW- Have you ever seen a bridge with an ebony insert on a GOOD (expensive) violin? Why not, do you think?

Jun 22, 2021 - 4:49:32 PM

RichJ

USA

501 posts since 8/6/2013

quote:
Originally posted by KCFiddles

 You can get more brilliance out of a hard bridge and hard bridges hold up longer, but my clients don't particularly like brilliance so I only use top grade bridges on expensive violins, since middle grades do all that is needed for the sound most fiddlers are looking for - IF they are cut and fitted properly.

Mike's comment here got me thinking about something I never thought about. Intuitively it does seem hardness (density?) of a bridge would have significant effect on tonal quality. So if a "hard" bridge increases brilliance, would a "soft" bridge tend to make the sound more mellow? Given all of the factors involved in the sound quality of a violin all this this is likely a vast over simplification. Still, something to think about when you're trying to improve sound quality of various fiddles that cross our path.  Incidentally, is there any way hardness of a bridge can be measured?

Also, I recall some luthiers talking about "cooking" a bridge which I think means more like frying it in a pan to heat it up and darken the color. Wouldn't this also tend to dry it out and make it harder?

Jun 22, 2021 - 7:22:09 PM

460 posts since 3/1/2020

The bridges with ebony inserts are always cheap. The theory is that the piece of ebony will prevent wear, but that is assuming the bridge won’t have a parchment on it.

The inserts can and do come out sometimes, but the biggest issue is that they don’t even end up being in the right spot for the E a lot of the time anyway. It looks really stupid when the E is not centered on the insert, but the string needs to be in the right place or the setup will suffer in playability.

What might seem at first glance to be an inventive solution to the persistent problem of strings biting into the grooves is in reality more of a gimmick. A bridge parchment will do the job better, can be placed precisely, and doesn’t detract from the appearance of the setup.

About baking bridges: some people do it to get a darker color in the wood. It does dry the wood out more, but it doesn’t make it stronger. If anything, baked wood can become weaker as heat breaks down the cellular structure of the wood. This is why baked wood is often very brittle and prone to fractures.

When a bridge is being baked, the goal is to get color on the outer surfaces. It’s more like sautéing onions as opposed to caramelizing them.

In the old days, the French bridge manufacturers used rabbit urine to darken the bridges (according to Roger Hargrave). These days, other methods are more popular. A lot of luthiers employ the “magic carpet” method of applying pigment and then sealing with very thin varnish.

Edited by - The Violin Beautiful on 06/22/2021 19:22:33

Jun 22, 2021 - 7:45:18 PM
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5611 posts since 7/1/2007

quote:
Originally posted by RichJ
quote:
Originally posted by KCFiddles

 You can get more brilliance out of a hard bridge and hard bridges hold up longer, but my clients don't particularly like brilliance so I only use top grade bridges on expensive violins, since middle grades do all that is needed for the sound most fiddlers are looking for - IF they are cut and fitted properly.

Mike's comment here got me thinking about something I never thought about. Intuitively it does seem hardness (density?) of a bridge would have significant effect on tonal quality. So if a "hard" bridge increases brilliance, would a "soft" bridge tend to make the sound more mellow? Given all of the factors involved in the sound quality of a violin all this this is likely a vast over simplification. Still, something to think about when you're trying to improve sound quality of various fiddles that cross our path.  Incidentally, is there any way hardness of a bridge can be measured?

Also, I recall some luthiers talking about "cooking" a bridge which I think means more like frying it in a pan to heat it up and darken the color. Wouldn't this also tend to dry it out and make it harder?


This morning's example was a case in which a bridge made a relatively huge difference. Usually with violin setup, it's a series of small choices which don't make a lot of difference individually, but eventually add up to a lot, like the straws that finally added up to enough of a load to break a camel's back. I often use a slightly softer bridge and cut a little wider bridge top, because, in conjunction that gives me a little "mellower" sound that some of my customers like. But when I have a fiddle or violin that I know is going to be more responsive to subtle setup changes, I'll use a harder, higher quality bridge that lets me cut a narrower top that gives me a more focused sound and clearer highs, perhaps, and maybe a more focused low end as well, It all goes hand in hand, and in 40 years, I haven't come up with any hard and fast rules, only general practices which usually produce predictable results.

"Cooking" a bridge is something I've never done, but I haven't seen any advantage to it yet, and so far haven't seen it done by anyone held in high esteem by their customers for their tonal adjustment skills. So far, many people claiming  authority on line can't even fit a sound post well. I'd be delighted to read about reproducible results from others because I am always looking for useful information. I'm pretty happy right now just to be able to get predictable and consistent results, most of the time.

Jun 24, 2021 - 6:03:17 AM

460 posts since 3/1/2020

Some time ago, there was a discussion on Maestronet about baking bridges. Both Jeff Holmes and Michael Darnton talked about doing it, and there are many other good luthiers who do it or have done it. I baked a few bridges for a shop experiment once for fun, but decided it wasn’t something that seemed to be critical.

If you’re trying to get the wood color darker, I prefer letting the blanks age in the air or in sunlight. It takes a while to build up a nice color, but it does look nice.

At the shop where I currently work part time, the owner always requests the darkest bridges our supplier has in stock, so no colorant is needed to make the bridge look nice.

Jun 24, 2021 - 1:22:26 PM

46davis

USA

43 posts since 3/16/2021

There seems to be an optimum bridge height for a violin. Too low and it lacks power and dynamics, too high and it's raucous sounding and bad natured to play, not to mention having a propensity for wolfs and E-string whistles.

Usually the Goldilocks position is right around where Strobel, et.al, say where it should be.

Edited by - 46davis on 06/24/2021 13:23:03

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